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World News and Prophetic Trends

 Reviewing Current World Conditions In Light Of Bible Prophecy



 World Report-3 - Disease And Pestilences



AIDS/HIV hits 50 million

© 2000 BBC -World News Report

May, 2000 - Most new cases are in Africa More than 50 million people have now been infected with the HIV virus, according to the latest UN and World Health Organisation figures.

More than 20 million have already died from Aids-related  illnesses.

The UNAIDS "Epidemic Update" reveals that, despite concerted prevention efforts in developing countries, the increase in infections continues.

 Deaths from Aids reached a record 2.6m in the past year - 2.2m died in 1998 - and an estimated 5.6m adults and children were infected.

Sub-Saharan Africa - which includes countries such as Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia - still accounts for the majority of all new  infections.

There are now more women carrying the virus than men. African girls aged 15 to 19 are five to six times more likely to be HIV-positive  than boys the same age.

 Life expectancy in southern Africa is expected to fall from 59 in the early 1990s to 45 between 2005 and 2010. This would be roughly the same level as in the early 1950s.

Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, said that Aids was the single greatest threat to development in many countries.

"With an epidemic of this scale, every new infection adds to the ripple effect, impacting families, communities, households and, increasingly, businesses and economies."

 Former USSR cases rising steeply  Injecting drug use in the former Soviet Union has been held responsible for the world's steepest HIV curve.

The number of infected people rose by more than a third in 1999 to reach an estimated 360,000.

In Moscow, three times as many cases were reported in the first nine months of 1999 as in all previous years combined.  The report does highlight some grounds  for optimism, picking out prevention projects  in India and Brazil as worthy of praise.

 But Mr Piot warned against complacency in Western countries.   "We have even seen evidence from North America and Western Europe suggesting that  the availability of life-prolonging therapies may  be contributing to an erosion of safer sexual behaviour."

Certainly, the latest HIV figures from the UK show no fall in the number of new infections in 1998. This has been blamed partly on more needle sharing among intravenous drug users.

 Rise in infections

The increases in the number living with HIV  have not slowed down.   Last year's Aids Epidemic Update suggested that more than 50 million were living with the HIV virus worldwide - a rise of 10% over the previous year. This year's increase is the same.

Experts are warning that the biggest rate of  increase is in Asia.  India and China are thought to be two of the nations most vulnerable to the spread of the disease, even though infections are relatively  low at the moment.

In contrast to sub-Saharan Africa's 25 million plus HIV cases, there are approximately  500,000
infected men, women and children in Western Europe.


Aids Worldwide

© 2000 BBC -World News Report

 May, 2000 - Aids is one of the biggest killers in the world The Aids pandemic is growing despite  years of prevention work. UNAIDS, the  United Nations' programme on Aids, says it  manages to bring down HIV rates in some countries only to find them rising in others. Aids has now become the leading cause of death in Africa, overtaking malaria.

Asia

Asia is now set to see the biggest Aids explosion with numbers of HIV cases expected to double by the year 2001.

Cambodia is the most affected  country in the region. Its health ministry estimates that 150,000 of the 11m population  have HIV. Around 90% of these are thought to have caught the virus through heterosexual intercourse.

UNAIDS fear these figures are grossly underestimated.   It recently warned that one of the key contributors to the disease's spread in Asia was the prevalence of sexually transmitted disease (STDs).

People with STDs are more likely to contract  the virus.  However, in different parts of the continent,
as in different parts of the world, there are variations in the pattern of HIV spread.

For example, in China and Vietnam, intravenous drug use is a prime route for infection.

Americas

In Latin America, as in the USA and Western Europe, the main communities affected by HIV are gay men and intravenous drug users.

The number of cases of people being infected  through heterosexual sex is rising fast.

 In the US, the number of Aids deaths has declined for two consecutive years, but the disease remains the leading killer of African American men aged 25-44 and the second leading killer of African American women in the same age group.

African Americans, who comprise only 13% of  the U.S. population, accounted for 43% of new Aids cases in 1997 and 36% of all Aids cases.

The main routes of infection are heterosexual sex and IV drugs.

Research shows African Americans are more  likely to be diagnosed at a later stage than whites and to receive poorer healthcare because of economic disadvantages.

Hispanic Americans represent just 10% of the US population, but they account for more than 20% of new Aids cases.

Approximately half of all new HIV infections in  the United States occur in people under age 25. A quarter occur in people under age 22.

 Africa

More than 80% of people with Aids come from Africa.

The World Health Organisation says the disease is now the leading cause of death, and is the cause of a fifth of all deaths in the continent. The UN estimates that two million  Africans died of Aids in 1998. The numbers may be rising because many deaths were previously attributed to other conditions, such as  tuberculosis.

Aids rates vary according to country with some having relatively low levels of infection, while others, such as Kenya, Tanzania,  Zimbabwe and Uganda have suffered greatly.

In Zimbabwe, which with Botswana has the highest incidence of Aids, life expectancy is likely to fall from 61 to 39 by the year 2010 because of Aids.

One in four people in the country is HIV positive.

Southern Africa, which is expected to see similar levels of HIV as were seen earlier in Eastern Africa, is only just beginning to tackle  the problem.

 It has a relatively well developed road system as well as a high level of migrant workers, allowing the disease to spread rapidly.

Many men working in the mines have to live  most of the year away from home and there is a high use of prostitutes.

The end of apartheid may help the spread of HIV because it allows freer movement around  the country.

The Aids epidemic in South Africa has also prompted protests about access to drug treatments, such as AZT, which are available in the West.

 The government argues that it cannot afford the drug, even though the manufacturers are reported to have offered it at a reduced price.

But UNAIDS says education and prevention has  reduced the Aids toll in some countries.

 Uganda was hit early on in the pandemic and has organised huge health campaigns. As a result, the numbers of people infected are beginning to fall.

Europe

Aids also shows graphically the inequalities in world health.

While in the West, the presence of strong drug combinations has led to HIV becoming virtually  a manageable disease, the situation is totally different in developing countries where drug  treatments are too expensive and access to  HIV tests is restricted.

In Europe, the number of people dying from Aids has fallen by 80% since 1995 because of the introduction of drug treatments which keep the virus at bay.


Austrailia reports Monsterous Locust Plaque

© 2000 The London Guardian

May, 2000 -  “A plague of locusts of biblical proportions, estimated at 100 billion-strong, is on the move through the Australian outback, threatening everything in its path from valuable vineyards to laundry hanging out to dry. The infestation-described as the worst in 20 years-follows record rains and the greening of normally arid expanses. A change of wind direction is expected to blow it towards the food- and wine-growing area of the Riverina in southern New South Wales. Four airplanes and five helicopters are currently spraying vast areas trying to arrest the migration. ‘If it gets to the extreme, they tend to attack anything that's green, including green clothes that are hanging on the clothesline,’ said Geoff File of the New South Wales agriculture department. ‘They've been known to eat the green out of clothes in a very severe plague, which we rarely get in Australia these days. They can create enormous damage.’ The Australian plague locust commission said  there were massive swarms on both sides of the continent. This was a particularly unusual event which has seen Western Australia's wheat belt, the rangelands of Queensland, as well as South Australia and New South Wales affected...”


 Nearly One-Third Of World's Population infected with TB

 "Nearly a third of the world's population is infected with the bacterium that causes tuberculosis, according to a new report, with 7.96 million new cases of the disease reported in 1997.

The study, by the World Health Organization (WHO), blamed poor control strategies for the situation, adding that more than half of the new cases reported in 1997 occurred in five Southeast Asian countries. Control failures also were cited for high rates in sub-Saharan Africa and  Eastern Europe, along with high rates of HIV infection in some African countries, where the disease has hit people whose immune systems have been weakened.

The study, published in today's Journal of the American Medical Association, estimated that in the 212 countries monitored by WHO, 1.86 billion people, or 32 percent of the global population, carry the bacterium that causes the disease..."


Drug Resistant TB Epidemic In Russia Focus Of Worldwide Alert

September 8, 1999 -   The London Times reported today: "Adisease that once cut a swath through  Europe's brightest and best is again laying waste to Russia. Tuberculosis, virtually eliminated a generation ago, has now infected at least half a million people, and threatens to spread from villages, prisons and ramshackle hospitals to the rest of the country. What is terrifying Western health officials is that a new form of the disease, resistant to modern drugs, is increasingly taking hold in Russia.

Inadequate and primitive attempts to deal with the near-epidemic have merely boosted the prevalence of multi-drug-resistant (MDR) tuberculosis, especially in the fetid and overcrowded prisons. Within a decade, medical experts say, Russia could have two million almost incurable TB patients. The disease, principally  incubated among the huge prison population of more than a million, is rapidly being spread by the release of 300,000 prisoners a year. Of these, about 10,000 are carrying MDR TB and each person passes on the disease to at least 20 others, health officials estimate. Sooner or later, Western health officials believe, TB will cross Russia's borders, putting all of Western Europe at risk...Western Europeans are watching the spread of the disease with alarm. ‘If TB is not tackled at international level now, it will become the major epidemic of the 21st century,’ said Dr Hans Kluge, regional TB coordinator of Médecins Sans Frontières."


The Ride of the Forth Horseman

The Fourth Horseman is called Death. The Pale Horseman will kill "over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death [plague], and by the beasts of the earth." just as hunger and famine inevitably follow war, the plague of the last days will devastate the population of the earth

The Aids Plague

Throughout history plagues have always reached the limits of the initial population risk group and then faded away. Until the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome plague appeared in 1978, it was inconceivable how this prophecy of the Fourth Horseman killing one-quarter of mankind could ever be fulfilled. Now, with the AIDS epidemic, we know. The worst previous plague in history, the Black Plague, killed one-quarter of the population of Europe throughout the fourteenth century. Over twenty-five million people died in that horror but it finally stopped after a century. 'two-thirds' of the infected population survived the Black Plague. However, AIDS is the first 100 percent fatal epidemic in history. Today, as a result of homosexual and bisexual transmission, together with rampant promiscuity in Africa, Asia and South America, AIDS is set to unleash the greatest plague in history. AIDS remains primarily a homosexually and bisexually transmitted disease in North America and Europe, with some cases from blood transfusions and addicts sharing needles.

A year ago the Central Intelligence Agency gave a sombre report to the president of the United States of America, warning of the projected deaths from AIDS in Africa. They gathered the best medical advice from the World Health Organization, the Centre for Disease Control in Atlanta and various studies in African countries. The staggering figures revealed that up to 75 percent of the population of Africa south of the Sahara could become infected with AIDS by the year 2000. This astonishing report suggests that as many as 250 million Africans could die of AIDS over the next ten years.

While AIDS is primarily transmitted through homosexual and bisexual activity in North America and Europe, in Africa, Asia and South America it is primarily transmitted through heterosexual activity. Why would AIDS be transmitted in the Third World by normal sexual activity between men and woman while remaining primarily a homosexually transmitted disease in North America? Doctors in the Third World confirm that the average sexually active adult in those countries will have between twenty-five and one hundred different sexual partners every year.

This rampant promiscuity has produced a tragic and widespread epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases (STD's). The average promiscuous adult in such countries will contract five or more sexually transmitted diseases throughout their life. Their syphilis, gonorrhoea, herpes and other sexually transmitted diseases usually remain untreated by antibiotics because of the lack of medicine and proper sanitation. These infected individuals will transmit AIDS from male to female, female to male through normal heterosexual activity through the open sores on their bodies from the previous STD's. Once a man becomes infected by a prostitute, he will then transmit the AIDS virus to his wife. She will often infect her baby during birth.

The figures for Asia and South America are equally tragic. Although AIDS started developing later in these two continents, it is spreading even more rapidly than in Africa. Figures from Dr. James Chin of the World Health Organization state that there was only one known AIDS case in Asia in 1987. Today there are more than three million. Over 96 percent of the prostitutes in Thailand are now infected with HIV. The latest study from India indicates that some 60 percent of their prostitutes are infected with AIDS. In addition, over 60 percent of the prostitutes in Paris are now infected. In Zimbabwe, two years ago 7 percent of those donating blood tested positive for AIDS. However, a year later 47 percent of the blood donors tested positive.

 The AIDS epidemic in Africa is so terrible that twenty-one African countries will no longer report fully on their AIDS figures. Their governments consider these terrible statistics a national security secret. In Central Africa, in village after village, only grandparents and older children remain alive to care for the babies. The parents are either dead or awaiting death in clinics. For the first time, we are looking at the prospect of the death of a whole continent. Finally, and tragically, we can understand what the prophet John was referring to when he described the forth seal, the pale horseman, killing one quarter of the population of the earth.


"Undoubtedly the most serious disease of our time is AIDS or acquired immune deficiency syndrome."

Andrea Huvard - California Lutheran University

The disease AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). This virus destroys the helper T cells and hence interferes with both the humoral and cell-mediated immuno-responses. As the number of Helper T cells declines many bacterial and other viral diseases are left unchecked to run rampant throughout the body. It is these other invading microbes that generally kill the AIDS patient. A person infected with the HIV may not show any symptoms for a very long period of time (up to ten years) because the virus remains dormant or inactive during that period. Eventually, patients infected with the virus will develop AIDS or ARC (AIDS related complex). ARC, which is characterized by swollen lymph nodes, fever and overall fatigue, usually further develops into full-blown AIDS. AIDS, the disease, is characterized by the inability of the immune system to resist infections that normally would cause no harm.

What makes the HIV different from other viruses? HIV or the AIDS virus is actually a retrovirus because it has RNA (not DNA like other viruses) which is converted to DNA within the helper T-cells after the virus has invaded the cell. Remember that the normal direction of transcription is from DNA to RNA so in the case of the HIV, it has been named reverse transcription. Using this viral copy of DNA, more viruses are produced and this rapid multiplication kills the helper T-cell.

World-wide about fifty million people are infected with HIV, which actually includes two separate viruses dubbed HIV I and 2. Outside the body, the virus cannot survive and is thought to be transmitted only through bodily fluids such as blood or semen and possibly saliva. Where did this virus originate? And how has it become so successful in the human population?

The HIV virus was identified in 1984 by a group of scientists at the Pasteur Institute in France. Since then, although there have been almost ten years of extensive research, the AIDS virus has continued to spread unabated throughout the world. Originally, the HIV was concentrated in certain sub-groups but now, the infection rate is increasing in the general population. How can the spread of a virus be dampened in a population? There are two basic methods. By a vaccine given to large numbers of people (such as the polio virus or Hepatitis B) or through education. To date, there is no vaccine that has been discovered to work against the HIV. The mutation rate of the virus is the second highest of any virus known so it is very difficult to produce an effective vaccine (only the influenza virus is known to mutate more quickly and how often do you get the flu?).

Further, AIDS research is slow for many reasons ranging from lack of money to ethical problems surrounding the large number of primates needed for experimentation. The other option is education. People must be educated about the methods of transmission and then modify their behaviour accordingly.

So how and where did this epidemic begin? Researchers are confident that the HIV evolved in Africa. In some urban regions of Africa up to 60 percent of pregnant women are HIV positive, which is an indication that the virus has been evolving within that population for a lengthy period of time. It is thought that the virus entered the human population either by bites from infected primates (Green Monkeys) or by eating infected meat.

Whatever the mechanism, some data show that the HIV virus has been slowly spreading throughout Africa for some 200 years. It is thought that because there are so many diseases in Africa, the AIDS virus has gone undetected for many years and most likely, the movement of Africans from rural areas to urban areas facilitated the detection of the virus. Even if the virus has been around for hundreds of years, the epidemic didn't really start in the US. and Europe until the 1980's and initially the homosexual and intravenous drug user populations were greatly affected. Why is this? It seems that this undoubtedly was because the behaviours of the individuals of these populations favoured the transmission of the virus from one person to the next.

Although homosexual behaviour and intravenous drug injections are still the primary avenues of infection, heterosexual men and women who don't use drugs have also been infected. In Africa, the HIV infection pattern is different than in other parts of the world whereby heterosexual behaviour is the primary mode of transmission. In the sub-Saharan part of Africa (excluding the country of South Africa), over 25 million+ people are thought to be infected with the HIV virus. In the capital of the Ivory Coast in West Africa, AIDS related diseases are the number one cause of death among young men.


NEW AND DEADLY VIRUSES NOW ON THE LOOSE

 “A virus that killed 106 people in outbreaks during 1998 and 1999 in Malaysia and Singapore has been identified as a new viral species capable of infecting both animals and humans. A study appearing Friday in the journal Science said the virus has been named Nipah and researchers said it is closely related to another new virus called Hendra. Together, the two viruses represent a new genus within the family of viruses known as Paramyxoviridae, said co-author Dr. William J. Bellini of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Unlike other members of the virus family, which generally infect only one type of animal, Nipah and Hendra are capable of infecting a variety of animals - dogs, cats, pigs, bats, horses and humans. Most animals recover from the virus, but it is lethal to about 40 percent of human patients, causing severe encephalitis, said Bellini...”


CDC WARNS ALL AREAS OF U.S. THREATENED BY HANTAVIRUS

 “As people begin trekking to the outdoors this season, scientists are warning that the mystery disease hantavirus is a threat throughout North America. Once thought to mainly haunt the Four Corners area of the Southwest, doctors say it has proved deadly from Canada to Argentina. And late spring is the deadliest season as people begin cleaning barns and stables, and head to the hills to hike, bike and camp. ’We get calls from people in California saying we're going to New Mexico and asking how to avoid hantavirus. We say there are cases in California, too. We need to change some thinking there,’ said Joni Young, hantavirus surveillance coordinator for the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. CDC studies have found the virus, carried by deer mice, as widespread in the East as in the West...”


Hepatitis C on the rise

DAYTON, Ohio -- Within two years, Dr. Peter Somani predicts hepatitis C will kill more Americans than AIDS.

The former state health director sounded that alarm last week in helping to unveil the Ohio Hepatitis C Coalition, more than 200 organizations hoping to increase awareness of the viral liver disease that is spread through infected blood. The U.S. Surgeon General released a public service TV announcement this week for the same purpose.

Increased awareness is important because hepatitis C can go undetected for as long as 30 years after infecting people. They don't know to undergo medical treatment and take precautions against spreading the virus and straining their livers. In announcing his resignation Friday, Montgomery County courts clerk Craig Zimmers said doctors told him he had been infected about 20 years before his diagnosis a year and a half ago.

The disease has been recognized as a serious health threat only recently, as it surfaces among those who underwent blood transfusions before July 1992 or injected drugs with contaminated needles -- the two most common sources of infection.

"Most people have no idea they have hepatitis C until it has reached the chronic phase and the damage to their liver is severe," Somani said.

Seven of every 10 Americans with the hepatitis C virus don't realize it, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That indicates how rough are the CDC estimates of 3.9 million infected Americans, of whom 2.7 have chronic liver disease.

Both figures far exceed the 1 million estimated by the CDC to be living with HIV or AIDS.

About three people in 20 fight off the hepatitis C virus without consequences but about 1 in 20 eventually die from it, prompting Health News editors to write in April that a hepatitis C diagnosis is "like entering a lottery you didn't want to play." Zimmers, 50, for whom treatment did not work, said he was a regular blood donor until the early '90s, when he was told his liver enzymes were slightly above elevated. "Naturally, I feel quite bad about that," he said.

The risk of infection from blood transfusion is down to 1 in 100,000 since donated blood has been routinely tested for the virus since 1992, so about 60 percent of infections now are believed to come from intravenous drug use. It also has been transmitted through dialysis before 1992, clotting blood products before 1987, birth by a mother with the virus, infected tattooing or body piercing needles, exposure to tainted blood in health care settings and unprotected sex.


FRANCE PANICS OVER HUMAN MAD COW DISEASE

Agence France Presse reported: "In a growing sign of panic in France about the dangers of mad cow disease or BSE, beef has been removed from the menu in canteens in nearly half of Paris schools, city authorities said Friday, while a major chain of restaurants has stopped offering beef on the bone. The schools' decision, which now covers nine out of 20 districts or arrondissements, was taken in response to growing demands from parents, who are anxious after the news that meat from a herd contaminated with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was put on sale in supermarkets...The country's biggest chain of steakhouses, Buffalo Grill, announced that it was removing beef served on the bone from the menus of its 207 outlets because of fears of contamination from the prion that causes

BSE...French fears of BSE, and its human equivalent variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, were heightened after the doubling of cases of infected cattle in the first 10 months of the year. The figure now stands at 166, of which 86 have been detected since January. Two cases were announced Friday in herds in the western department of Mayenne. Public alarm increased further after it was announced two weeks ago that supermarkets had unknowingly bought 13 cattle from a herd infected with BSE, and that eight tonnes of their meat ended up on the shelves. In another sign of the growing concerns about French cattle, Hungary announced Friday it is banning imports of beef, following the lead of Russia which said on Wednesday it will not take in beef from a number of high-risk departments in the west of France..."


SPREAD OF MAD COW DISEASE IN HUMANS SHAKES UP EUROPEANS

UPI reported: “French officials reported a rash of new mad cow cases, sparking fresh panic about the deadly disease. Then in London last week, a government inquiry sharply criticized British officials for misleading the public into thinking there really was not much danger of mad cow, known formally as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. Coming at the heels of tainted chicken, sausage and butter scandals -- not to mention a European backlash against genetically modified produce -- the latest food scare threatens to last longer than an end-of-year buzz. In fact, in a series of chilling articles printed in its October 28th and November 4th editions, New Scientist magazine suggest mad cow's prevalence in Europe may be far more widespread than previously thought. The implications don't only touch current problem countries such as Britain and France, the magazine reported, but also other European states...”


EBOLA VIRUS OUTBREAK SPREADS

The London Telegraph reported: “Fears are growing that the Ebola fever epidemic which has killed 80 people in northern Uganda may spread to the south of the country after a soldier died from the virus in a hospital there. Health experts had hoped they had contained last month's outbreak to the northern Gulu region. But the soldier died from the virus in the southern town of Mbarara after being redeployed there from Gulu. Health experts will now investigate who he has had contact with.

Doctors and nurses at the hospital where he died will be most at risk. Kenyan health experts have tightened border and airport controls, anxious to prevent the disease, which causes victims to die from internal bleeding in days, spreading over the border...”


‘SUPERBUGS’ RUN RAMPANT

“Doctors are losing the battle against many mutated bacteria that they call superbugs, as they grow increasingly resistant to antibiotics. Healthcare workers are faced with a global crisis as more bacteria are found to be increasingly resistant to antibiotics. Singapore General Hospital's figures showed that the streptococcus pneumonia bacteria, which commonly leads to pneumonia in Singapore, has grown more resistant to penicillin. Records showed that penicillin did not work against the bacteria six out of 10 times two years ago. This is compared to the antibiotic not working only four out of 10 cases four years ago. A superbug that has developed from a common strain of pseudomonas aeruginosa was found in a patient with an infection. Dr. Paul E Zakowich, a specialist in internal medicine at Mount Elizabeth Medical Center, said superbugs were bacteria that had grown resistant to a lot of the standard antibiotics that doctors use. He said more expensive and higher generation antibiotics were needed to kill these superbugs.

 Some examples of these superbugs are the MRSA, which is more resistant to methiclin than it used to be, and some strains of the streptococcus type A, which has also grown more resistant to antibiotics...”


AIDS could reach catastrophic proportions in Russia

Reuters reported: “The spread of AIDS could reach catastrophic proportions in Russia unless officials take quick action to reduce runaway growth rates of the killer disease. The number of HIV and AIDS sufferers was put at 130,000 at the end of last year. But there is broad agreement that the number of cases is significantly under-reported. Russia could have up to a million infected cases in just 2-3 years. He said some consequences of the spread of the disease were already irreversible&ldots;’The main plague will start in five or six years because people are dying on average 10-12 years after contracting the infection and the mass epidemic in Russia started in the 1990s.’ A growing problem is sexually transmitted infections. ‘So far, the epidemic (of AIDS)in Russia has been driven by drug users,’ Arkadiusz Majszyk, UNAIDS representative in Russia, said in the statement. ‘But a second wave of HIV infections spread by sexual contact could follow the current drug-driven epidemic and in just 3-4 years, Russia may well have a generalized epidemic.’ UNAIDS said its executive director, Peter Piot, would meet high-ranking Russian officials and non-governmental groups on Thursday.

Russia had the world's highest rate of growth for the spread of the killer disease AIDS...”


EU farm ministers told mad cow crisis worse than thought

BRUSSELS, Jan 29 (AFP) - EU farm ministers assessing the burgeoning mad cow scare gripping Europe got a stark warning Monday from EU agriculture commissioner Franz Fischler: the situation is worse than it appears.

"The situation is considerably more dramatic that we had envisaged before Christmas," he told a press conference during a break in the council, which was also groping for ways of bailing out debt-ridden EU cattle farmers whose tainted stocks were literally going up in smoke.

The growers are suffering the financial fallout of a consumer scare surrounding mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), spreading exponentially as new cases pop up almost weekly and cattle tested BSE-positive are incinerated.

"The latest market indications are alarming," Fischler said. "Many third (non-EU) countries have banned EU beef...If this continues, 53 percent of our export capacity will not be utilized...a reduction of 375,000 tonnes this year."

He categorically excluded any further help for farmers this year beyond programs already packed into the 1.2-billion-euro (1.14-billion-dollar) cushion in the 2001 budget.

"We really are at the very limit, if not beyond, in terms of what we can finance with the community budget," he said. "With all the will in the world, and fully recognizing the dire straits of farmers at the moment...we have zero room for maneuver."

Agriculture Minister Margareta Winberg of Sweden, which holds the current EU presidency, added, "I can't see any possibility of going beyond the existing budget...This was very clearly expressed" at the EU summit in Nice last month. "We're in a very difficult situation," she said.

On top of last year's 27 percent drop in EU beef consumption and near corresponding drop in prices, said Fischler, the figure this year "might be more than 10 percent...if it is more than 12 percent, the situation gets much worse."

He urged the 15 member states to adopt the "purchase for destruction" (PFD) scheme approved by the council last month, wherein governments buy up and destroy high-risk animals.

But he stressed this was merely a band-aid measure. "The scheme is simply the lesser evil," he said. "It is cheaper, offers a solution to farmers who cannot sell their animals, it disposes of the lowest quality beef at the lowest price and hence reduces the surplus."

Four countries -- France and Ireland and, to a lesser extent, Spain and Luxembourg -- are currently using the PFD scheme with good market results, said Fischler.

The commissioner also urged adoption of production-cutting measures, including subsidized premiums to farmers for bringing calves to slaughter at a younger age, thus reducing weight stockage. Under current rules, cattle over the age of 30 months must be BSE-tested before they can be marketed. But some governments are questioning if that's enough.

Germany last week unilaterally lowered the testing age to 24 months after a younger cow tested positive, and other countries are reportedly thinking in that direction.

Just weeks into an EU-mandated BSE testing program, the ministers were digesting the staggering costs of destroying hundreds of thousands of tonnes of beef expected to be tested unfit for human consumption.

Fischler had previously said that in a "best case" scenario -- no more than an additional 10 percent drop in consumption this year -- costs would be around three billion euros.

In addition, Health and Consumer Protection Commission David Byrne said the farm ministers had agreed to a measure that could substantially raise that estimate: adding the bovine vertebral column to the list of specified risk materials (SRM), excluding it for human consumption.

But he said the precise cuts of beef involved, possibly the popular T-bone and rib-eye steaks, would be left to the findings of the EU's Standing Scientific Committee which reports next month.

Such cuts could contain traces of the animal's nervous system, believed to be the breeding ground for the prion that causes BSE.

Scientists years ago established a link between BSE and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), a fatal, brain-wasting disease in humans. The disease has already claimed over 85 lives in Britain, where BSE first emerged in the 1990s as a result of feeding grazing animals the ground-up remains of their own species.

Winberg told the press conference the ministers had lunched on beef preceeding their formal session. But she said she did not know its origin.


AIDS: The Dangers of Letting Down Your Guard

While Africa battles a disease that's killing millions, expensive drug 'cocktails' appear to have kept AIDS at bay in the U.S. New figures, however, show the the new medicines may have engendered a false sense of security

This Sunday, Secretary of State Colin Powell declared Africa's AIDS crisis "a national security problem" for the United States.

Powell's statement on ABC's Sunday morning news program "This Week" simultaneously signals an adherence to the Clinton administration's position and snubs a closely held conviction among some Republicans that an overseas epidemic does not constitute a domestic threat. But although they are groundbreaking in one sense, Powell's remarks represent a lost opportunity in another: In his zest to

focus deserved attention on the shocking spread of AIDS overseas, Powell overlooked a chance to showcase the skyrocketing rates of infection right here at home.

While overall mortality rates in the U.S. have dropped significantly since 1995, sharp increases in infection rates have been reported recently — most notably among young gay black men (fully 30 percent of whom are reportedly infected with the virus) and heterosexual women of color.

Twenty years ago, when the first cases of AIDS were diagnosed in the U.S., the mysterious disease stuck close to the population that is still most associated with its ravages: gay men. But then, as the virus spread, it touched more "normal" lives, left its urban habitat and invaded small towns across the country. By the mid-'90s, everyone was talking about AIDS, not as the gay man's disease, but as a universal threat. Schools started talking about condoms; kids were shown videos touting abstinence or AIDS prevention or both; some cities started handing out clean needles to intravenous drug users.

AIDS research donations drop

And then, around 1996, almost as quickly as the AIDS panic had materialized, it eased, and then slipped away. Around the world,

AIDS-related deaths dropped by nearly 50 percent annually. The reemergence of other, less deadly STDs, like chlamydia and herpes, took over the pages of medical journals and newspapers, while advances in HIV and AIDS prevention were relegated to the back page summaries. Wealthy corporations and private donors, once dependable sources of AIDS research funding, began to ease off — a 1999 Gallup survey showed a 22 percent drop that year in the number of groups making donations of $50,000 or more to AIDS-related causes.

Who can blame them? There was, after all, a new drug "cocktail" in town, and with assiduous self-medication, HIV-positive patients could now live virtually symptom-free for years. Everyone who could afford it was shoveling back the expensive combinations of drugs, and the side effects ranged from unpleasant to downright awful. But it sure as heck beat AIDS.

The problem, of course, is that no cocktail has ever beaten AIDS. And now, doctors and epidemiologists fear, the availability of potent drug cocktails have lulled many in the highest-risk populations, which now include both gay men and heterosexual men and women of color, into a false sense of security. Since 1997, for example, the rate of HIV infections in San Francisco's gay male population has more than doubled, a trend scientists fear is duplicating itself in other cities. New studies indicate that as many as one in 50 black men in the U.S. is infected with the virus.

Appearances can deceive

There is no cure for AIDS — so why are so many acting as if there is? Some of the blame lies in human nature and our easy embrace of good news. There is something ineffably seductive about denial — and for gay men, whose sex lives have been overshadowed by the specter of an incurable disease, the temptation to believe, to abandon oneself to the idea of a cure, must have been nearly irresistible. Even appearances can compound the denial: Thanks to the developments in drug regimens, many HIV-positive people look perfectly healthy for years, their rosy cheeks and robust schedules meaning that potential sex partners cannot detect an infected person by appearance alone.

But the latest numbers don't lie. And while millions are dying in Africa, here in the U.S. our task is unique: We've got to convince at-risk populations that helpful as they may be at extending life expectancy, the current treatments are not a cure.

Death is inevitable and the ability to infect the unwary is tantamount.


Canada Finds First Case of 'Mad Deer' Disease in Wild

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Wildlife officials have confirmed the first case of a mad-cow like disease in a wild deer in western Canada, prompting concerns the brain-wasting illness could wreak the same damage already under way in game farms. ``Unfortunately, from our perspective, we were hoping it wouldn't be found in the wild but it has been confirmed now that one was positive,'' said Kevin Omoth, a senior analyst in the fish and wildlife branch with Saskatchewan Environment and Resource Management.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) was first detected in an elk on a game farm in Saskatchewan in 1996.

Since 1997, an extensive monitoring program has discovered dozens of confirmed cases in elk on 19 game farms. About 3,000 animals have been destroyed in an attempt to stop the disease from spreading, Omoth said.

CWD has been a major blow to Canada's elk ranching industry, about half of which is in Saskatchewan. The animals are raised for their meat and their antler velvet, which is used in homeopathic remedies and aphrodisiacs, especially in Asia.

Korea banned imports of elk antler velvet from Canada last December because of concerns about CWD.

This latest case was found in a wild mule deer shot by a hunter last autumn in southwestern Saskatchewan, near the border of Alberta. Its head was sent to a laboratory for study as part of a government collection program that is testing 1,400 deer brains.

Officials at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency near Ottawa, confirmed the presence of CWD.

CWD belongs to the same family of diseases as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease.

Scientists don't know what causes CWD, which attacks the nervous systems and brains of deer and elk, or how it spreads. CWD has no known cure and animals in the advanced stage of the illness exhibit weight loss, difficulty swallowing and disorientation.

Wildlife officials say there is no way of testing live animals for the disease and there is no vaccine.

Food safety experts promise to monitor events closely, but say CWD is not likely harmful to humans or other domestic livestock because of what they refer to as a species barrier. `All the current science indicates that it can't be transmitted from deer or elk to either humans or cattle or horses and pigs. That puts us at ease,'' Omoth told Reuters.

However, an advisory panel in the United States which was reviewing the Food and Drug Administration's efforts to keep mad cow disease out of the food chain, said in January that potential harm to humans from CWD should not be ruled out.

The concern stems from new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a deadly human version of BSE that has killed more than 80 people in Britain after they ate BSE-tainted beef.

CWD was first found in the United States in 1967 and is present in both wild and domestic deer and elk in six states. The infected ranch elk in Saskatchewan came from the United States. Canada banned U.S. elk and deer imports in 1990.

The Saskatchewan government is stepping up efforts to control CWD, sometimes called mad deer disease, including reducing wild deer and elk populations with expanded hunting and urging hunters to send in deer heads promptly for testing.

``Our goal is to get an accurate determination of the prevalence of this disease, and then contain it and work toward eradication,'' Saskatchewan Environment Minister Buckley Belanger said in a statement.

Hunters are being told to wear rubber gloves when dressing an animal and to avoid handling brain and spinal chord material. ``It's advisable, if an animal is identified as positive, that a person not eat it. It's the same as eating anything that was sick, it's just not a good idea,'' said Omoth. \

 


HEPATITIS C COULD BE DEADLIER THAN AIDS BY 2010

Newsmax.com reports: “It wasn't discovered until 1989, but hepatitis C is already killing 10,000 people annually, and the Center for Disease Control predicts that by 2010 it will claim more victims than AIDS.

Between 1993 and 1998 AIDS deaths had dropped to just below 18,000 a year from a high of more than 45,000. During the same period, hepatitis C infections skyrocketed by a dizzying 260 percent - a rate of increase that by 2010 will leapfrog it past AIDS as a killer.

Capable of lurking undetected for as long as 20 years before symptoms such as jaundice, fatigue and abdominal pain appear, hepatitis C, by the time it has been diagnosed, is already in its chronic stage, when serious liver scarring and the threat of cancer and death exist....;


CHINA'S BOOM SPREADS HIV TO ITS HEARTLANDS

  The Times reports: “China is facing an Aids epidemic that has led to the infection of 80 per cent of the population in some areas. I followed the route that brings the virus from the heroin fields on the border with Burma to the heartland, a 1,000-mile journey in which I saw HIV tearing into industrial centers and remote villages.

Under the headline ‘Specialists visit Aids-stricken village,’ the China Daily this week made the first official mention of the towns where infection rates are higher than any in Africa.

 The state-owned newspaper reported that ‘the deadly virus has ravaged an impoverished nook of China’ as a ‘result of illegal blood donations and handling’. The Government has long insisted that China had few Aids cases and little need for public health campaigns. Indeed, officials intimidated local doctors who tried to publicize the epidemic and arrested journalists who interviewed them.

Now the Government appears to be admitting Aids’ existence and recognizes that it has devastated the heartland province of Henan and left a whole generation of young Chinese orphaned. ‘The parents die and the children are left to fend for themselves,’ a local woman said.....;”


US LAWMAKERS WARNED OF ‘DARK WINTER’ IN CASE OF BIOTERRORIST ATTACK

 Agency France-Presse reports: “A chilling scenario of possible national collapse was presented Monday to US lawmakers by a group of prominent security experts, who warned that a biological terrorist attack on US soil could bring the country to the brink of disintegration.

The panel, which included former deputy secretary of defense John Hamre, Oklahoma governor Frank Keating and former senator Sam Nunn, presented their conclusions after holding a two-day exercise code-named ‘Dark Winter,’ which featured a computer-simulated bioterrorist attack on three US states.

Members of the House Subcommittee on National Security closely listened as participants painted a picture of the world's most powerful nation descending into chaos in a matter of several weeks...;”


WEST NILE WORRIES - OUTBREAK MAY HAVE BEEN MORE EXTENSIVE THAN THOUGHT

ABC News reports: “This past week, the Centers for Disease Control warned the virus has spread farther and faster this year than ever. It has reached nine states from Massachusetts to Florida. The virus has also infected more than 150 birds and it's first human victim this year — an elderly Florida man now in serious condition.

‘This virus can behave like a wildfire,’ said Michael D'Antonio, author of Mosquito: A Natural History. ‘It will burn through your area then jump to another where it can find fresh fuel.

West Nile virus first appeared in New York City in 1999. Since then, there have been 78 confirmed cases in humans and nine deaths, all in New York and New Jersey. But this week, researchers released a study showing the 1999 outbreak was much more extensive than originally thought.

 ‘Our estimate is that in New York City, as a whole, in the outbreak of 1999, there were 8,200 total infections, said Farzard Mostashari, epidemiologist of the New York Department of Health...;”


BILLION-STRONG LOCUSTS SEND FARMERS TO BOOK OF EXODUS

  TheTimes reports: “Plagues of locusts are devastating crops from Central Asia to the American Midwest, sending farmers to the book of Exodus for salvation. Not since the Egyptians incurred the wrath of God have so many locusts had their day. A billion-strong army is on the move, stretching far beyond the more normal swarming grounds of Africa and the Middle East and threatening central Eurasia’s arable land in a pincer movement from each end of the Caspian Sea. In China, hundreds of thousands of ducks, trained by government handlers to feed on the locusts, are being flown to the northwest where locusts are taking over vast dried-out grasslands. Southern Russia’s worst plague of locusts in 40 years is meanwhile advancing north by several miles a day. In America, too, an agricultural emergency has been declared in Utah, where the ‘Mormon crickets’ have so far caused $25 million of damage to crops...”


CJD -"Mad Cow" scientists warn of 'second wave'

By BBC News Online's Helen Briggs

Scientists are warning that the predicted size of the variant CJD epidemic may have been underestimated.

Research in mice suggests that only people with the shortest incubation periods for the disease are showing symptoms of the human form of BSE.

This study reminds us that we cannot be complacent about the potential risks to public health posed by BSE John Collinge, MRC Prion unit, London

If confirmed, the findings would mean that the current cases are just the tip of the iceberg and that a "second wave" of cases will emerge.

Projections of the scale of the epidemic are based on the theory that some people are unlikely to contract CJD from infected meat because of their genetic make-up.

But this idea is contradicted by research reported in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Those patients we have seen so far with vCJD may be those genetically disposed to have the shortest incubation periods," says John Collinge, director of the Medical Research Council Prion Unit in London.

Genetic risk

Prions are infectious agents that cause fatal brain diseases such as vCJD in humans and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and scrapie in animals.

Following infection, there is a very long incubation period before symptoms of the disease occur.

According to the latest figures from the Department of Health, 99 cases of vCJD have been recorded to date.

But it remains unclear how many other people have been exposed to BSE and what proportion of these will eventually develop the human form of the disease.

One clue is our genes. As with conditions like cancer and heart disease, genetic factors are thought to be involved in determining an individual's risk of developing CJD, after exposure to the infective agent.

All patients identified so far have a particular variation in their genetic make-up (MM), shared by about 40% of white Britons. Two other subtypes (VV and MV) are seen.

The current estimates assume that only people with the MM genetic make-up will contract the disease if they come into contact with the infective agent, for example by eating contaminated meat.

'Complacent'

However, Professor Collinge, who led the team that carried out the new research, warns that such predictions may be "overly optimistic". "This study reminds us that we cannot be complacent about the potential risks to public health posed by BSE," says Professor Collinge. "We cannot rule out an epidemic that evolves over decades."

The new work confirms that in mice at least, a number of genes are involved in susceptibility to prion diseases.

And although it may take longer for symptoms to appear in some animals because of their genetic make-up, that does not mean they will not eventually succumb to the disease.

As the mouse and human genomes are so similar, corresponding genes are almost certain to be found in humans


NEW DRUG LOSING BATTLE AGAINST HOSPITAL SUPERBUG

The London Daily Telegraph reports: “A ‘wonder drug’ recently introduced to tackle antibiotic resistant superbugs is already losing its effectiveness against bacteria. Research published today says some strains of hospital bacteria are developing resistance to linezolid and might become untreatable. Linezolid is one of a new class of antibiotics designed to kill bacteria resistant to conventional antibiotics. These superbugs include methicillin resistant Staphyloccus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin resistant enterococcus (VRE).

The drug is available in Britain and is used to treat some of the 100,000 people who pick up infections in hospital each year. Dr Ronald Gonzales of the University of Illinois College of Medicine studied the use of linezolid against a vancomycin resistant superbug called enterococcus faecium. Vancomycin was once regarded as the last line of defense against superbugs.

Linezolid was initially effective in all five patients. But over several weeks, tests showed that bacteria were beginning to develop resistance. In three cases, the patients grew unresponsive to treatment, the team reports in the Lancet today. Four of the patients had been given transplants and all were on long courses of the drug, between 21 and 40 days. That increased the chances of the bacteria becoming resistant, the team reports...”


MORE ANIMAL DISEASES SEEN AS HUMAN THREAT

The Boston Globe reports: “More than 200 people died last year in Yemen and Saudi Arabia when a disease that normally afflicts African livestock somehow crossed the Red Sea and attacked humans. In Malaysia in 1998, a virus normally found in pigs broke out among farmers, killing a third of the people it infected. And a handful of Europeans have come home from Africa in recent years with Lassa fever, a rodent virus that kills 5,000 people a year - but seldom outside of West Africa.

While public attention remains riveted on efforts to keep foot-and-mouth and mad cow diseases out of the United States, front-line infectious disease researchers are concerned about the next wave of potentially deadly diseases. The most dangerous of these obscure conditions have made the mysterious leap from animals to infect humans, mainly in tropical climates far from the United States.

Scientists say more diseases make the animal-to-people leap as the world becomes more crowded. In addition, detection methods are getting more sophisticated. Meanwhile, the demand for meat - the international meat trade has grown about 10 percent since 1990 - has prompted farmers to keep larger farms with more animals packed together and bigger and bigger processing plants. Such large-scale operations hasten disease among animals and make it that much more difficult to recall products if contamination occurs.

And there are tinier creatures - insects that can bite an animal and then infect humans - that are hitching rides on cargo containers. The Asian tiger mosquito got a ride to Houston in 1985 in used auto tires and has since spread to 20 states. The mosquito is known for spreading encephalitis and dengue fever, although it hasn't yet caused human illness in the United States..."


THOUSANDS DIE IN MENINGITIS OUTBREAK AND TEN OF THOUSANDS INFECTED

Discovery News reports: “At least 3,500 people across Africa have died so far in the current outbreak of meningitis that has hit the continent, according to a report released by the International Red Cross on Wednesday. Another 38,000 cases of the virulent disease have also been confirmed. A statement issued by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said the outbreak of the disease was the worst in the last decade and was responsible for a serious shortage of vaccine worldwide.

The statement also explained that tens of thousands of cases of the infection had been identified, and ''many more are likely to have gone unreported.’ Dr. Hakan Sandbladh, the federation's emergency health coordinator, said, ‘There is definitely a crisis. New outbreaks are being regularly reported, and in some places it seems to be spreading like wildfire.’ Meningitis affects the membranes of the brain and the spinal cord, and is deadly unless treated in time...;.”


 Foot and mouth outbreak blamed on Mugabe mobs

 FOOT and mouth disease has broken out in Zimbabwe after squatters broke fences and released infected animals from quarantine areas on white-owned farms.

Beef exports have been halted, throwing into jeopardy a crucial industry that earns £27 million for an economy in the final stages of collapse.

Timothy Reynolds, the chairman of the Cattle Producers' Association, said squatters had torn down farm fences and driven livestock, including infected animals, out of their pens.

 Foot and mouth disease has been identified near Bulawayo, 300 miles south-west of Harare, and exports to the European Union have been halted.

Ngoni Masoka, a senior official at the Agriculture Ministry, said: "A large-scale farm inspection exercise has been mounted."


Foot And Mouth -About the Disease

FOOT and mouth disease is a highly contagious infection, caused by a virus that results in blisters, salivation and lameness, killing mostly younger animals.

By analysing DNA sequences from samples taken from the outbreaks and comparing them with its database, the origins of the outbreak can be traced by the Pirbright Laboratory of the Institute for Animal Health, Surrey, the world reference laboratory for the disease. The strain identified at the Essex abattoir and farm is a "type O", with tests suggesting it is of the pan-Asiatic strain, the Chief Veterinary Officer said yesterday.

Dr Jim Scudamore said tests suggested that the virus was similar to the strain which caused outbreaks in Japan, Korea, Mongolia, and Russia and was closely linked to a South African strain of the disease. It affects cloven-hooved animals, such as cattle, pigs, sheep and goats, and incubates over a period of between two days and two to three weeks. But in the case of this particular strain, Dr Scudamore said that incubation seemed to be faster.

The Pirbright laboratory has developed computer models that can help predict the spread of the disease. The virus, a type called a picornavirus, may spread over great distances with movement of infected or contaminated animals, products, objects, and people.

Large amounts of virus are excreted by infected animals before signs of the disease are evident and winds may spread it over long distances. The disease can also persist in contaminated fodder and the environment for up to one month, depending on conditions.

Pigs are mainly infected by ingesting infected food. Cattle are mainly infected by inhalation, often from pigs, which excrete large amounts of virus in their breath and are considered highly important in the disease's spread.

 The rate of infection can reach 100 per cent, but mortality can range from five per cent (adults) to 75 per cent (suckling pigs and sheep). The highest mortality is in young animals and is caused by myocarditis, when the heart is infected.

Clinical signs in cattle are salivation, depression, anorexia and lameness caused by painful blisters. Dr Scudamore said: "Because we do not know the origin of this disease, it is absolutely vital that farmers inspect their animals."

 Fever and decreased milk production usually precede the appearance of blisters. The blisters rupture, leaving large denuded areas which may become secondarily infected. In pigs, sheep and goats the clinical signs are similar but milder. In all cases, lameness is a key sign.

 People can be infected through skin wounds or the oral mucosa by handling diseased stock, the virus in the laboratory, or by drinking infected milk, but not by eating meat from infected animals. Because human infections are temporary and mild, the disease is not thought to be a public health problem.


Aids causes half adult deaths

Johannesburg: Nearly half of adult deaths in South Africa are caused by conditions related to HIV-Aids, according to a survey published yesterday.

The high death-rate means that the population, which was expected to increase from 43 million to 51 million by 2010, is now likely to peak at 47 million over the next ten years. The report, by the American charity Lovelife, showed that deaths among teenagers caused by the virus were still rising, despite government attempts to promote health education.


Foot and mouth epidemic is world's worst

AS the 2,000th case of foot and mouth was confirmed yesterday, the Government admitted that it had failed to meet its target of slaughtering all cases within 24 hours of being reported by farmers.

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said that last week animals on only 43 per cent of infected premises were slaughtered within 24 hours and only 86 per cent were slaughtered within 36 hours. The epidemic is now the worst in the world in terms of the total number of animals slaughtered.

The present epidemic has a lower number of cases than the 2,354 in the 1967-68 outbreak. But, partly as a result of farms having grown many times since then, the number slaughtered was 3,801,517 this year compared with 433,987 in 1967.

Livestock have now been slaughtered on 9,311 farms. Nearly as many animals have been slaughtered in Britain in seven months as in the four years since the 1997 Taiwan outbreak, which in terms of the slaughter of infected and suspected cases remains the largest outbreak in the world.

 Some 4,037,014 livestock, nearly all pigs, have died or been slaughtered in Taiwan since 1997, causing economic hardship and removing Japan's main source of pork.

But when the 1,557,780 slaughtered under the livestock welfare scheme are added to the total infected and suspected cases slaughtered in Britain during the 2001 epidemic, the British epidemic has resulted in the greatest loss of life. The total number of livestock slaughtered this year for all reasons was 5,359,297.

Tim Bennett, the deputy director of the National Farmers' Union, said: "In our worst nightmares, we could never have imagined just how significant an epidemic this would be when we heard about the first case.

 "Despite the bleak headlines, the huge efforts being made mean that the situation is improving every day." An average of three fresh cases were reported in the week to Aug 26 compared with 40 at the epidemic's height.

Pressure of new cases in Northumberland means that the burial site at Tow Law, in Co Durham, will continue to be used for carcass disposal despite protests from locals.

John Bradbury, the department's regional operations director in Newcastle upon Tyne, said there was not enough rendering capacity to cope with the demand.

 The burial site at Widdrington, Northumberland, may be brought back into operation if cases in the county continue to mount. So far 1,400 sheep and 275 cattle have been taken to Tow Law since Sunday and six lorryloads arrived yesterday.


Epidemic's deadly shift: AIDS explodes in Asia

Asia will probably overtake Africa as the most heavily AIDS-affected region in the world unless firm action is taken quickly, a report commissioned by the United Nations said yesterday.

 The study by the non-governmental organisation Monitoring the AIDS Pandemic (MAP) Network says: "In the last two years the picture has changed dramatically. After more than a decade of comparatively low HIV infection levels in most population groups, there is recent evidence of rapidly growing epidemics in some populations and geographic areas."

Parts of China, Indonesia and Vietnam are among the areas experiencing the sharpest increases, and intravenous drug users and sex workers are most at risk.

Speaking in Melbourne before yesterday's opening of the sixth International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, the UNAIDS executive director, Peter Piot, said: "We are kidding ourselves if we think Asia is not at risk from a major AIDS epidemic; it is already there. "Today I think about a third or 40 per cent of the world's people with HIV are living in Asia."

 Two months ago China admitted that it was facing a "very serious" AIDS epidemic. The number of people with HIV had risen by two thirds in a year.

In Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam the infection rate among prostitutes and clients increased to more than 20 per cent last year from virtually zero in 1996.

Indonesia recorded a jump in HIV among sex workers in three provinces from 6 to 26 per cent.

 It is of small comfort, the report says, that HIV/AIDS infection is usually concentrated in certain places and in people involved in the sex trade or using drugs.

 And despite those ingredients for the spread of HIV, Asia's epidemic has lagged far behind the rest of the world's. The exceptions are three countries where the virus took hold relatively early: Thailand, Cambodia and Burma (see table). Elsewhere, the prevalence is below 1 per cent.

"The good news for Asia is that because the majority of the population does not engage in high-risk behaviour, focusing on those who do is both affordable and effective," the report says.

 The urgency of the findings was echoed by Bernhard Schwartlander, a World Health Organisation epidemiologist, who added that threatened Asian countries might do well to study two of their neighbours.

 "In Thailand [a prevention] program has prevented millions of HIV infections. Cambodia is another example," he said.

Research by Family Health international shows that even countries that the MAP study praises for controlling the spread of HIV, especially Thailand and Cambodia, are starting to have increases in infection rates, partly due to the region's economic crisis driving more people into prostitution and drug use.

 The Indonesian deputy minister of health, Umar Fahmi Achmadi, appealed to potential donor nations to take the report seriously. "Don't send all the resources to Africa but send some here ... we are experiencing a bigger explosion than they are."


Dengue Fever Outbreak in Hawaii First in 50 Years

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii (Reuters Health) - The Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) is warning all Hawaiian physicians to be on the alert for possible dengue fever cases, in response to the first documented local transmission of the virus in Hawaii since 1943.

As of October 8, the CDC has confirmed 34 cases of dengue in residents of the rural, wet, mosquito-prone region of East Maui. There are roughly 100 additional suspected cases in Maui at this time, with laboratory confirmation pending. Although Hawaii DOH officials are also working up several suspected cases on Oahu, Hawaii and Kauai, the outbreak is currently limited to East Maui, affecting mostly residents in the rural towns of Hana and Nahiku.

 In addition, 27 cases of dengue fever were reported prior to September 20 in Hawaii, but these early cases were in individuals who recently traveled to Asian and Pacific countries where the disease is currently epidemic.

 The current outbreak is historically unusual because the incidence of the infection is increasing among residents who have no history of recent travel and also because the Aedes Aegypti mosquito has not been seen in Hawaii since it was supposedly eradicated by pesticide spraying in 1943.

According to the CDC, Hawaii's Asian tiger mosquito, or Aedes albopictus, is not an ``efficient'' carrier of the virus. The Aedes Aegypti mosquito is thought to be the natural carrier of the virus and is the prevalent mosquito in epidemic areas outside of Hawaii. A CDC entomologist is currently on-site in East Maui investigating these issues.

A large dengue fever epidemic is now sweeping across Asia and the Pacific, with approximately 8,000 cases reported in the Philippines, 4,000 cases in Malaysia and 1,000 cases in Singapore, all reported in the first half of 2001, with less than half these numbers reported in all of 2000. According to Dr. Philip Bruno, chief of the Hawaii DOH Communicable Diseases Division, the Hawaii outbreak appears to be an extension of the Asia-Pacific epidemic, which is almost inevitable as travelers go back and forth between Hawaii and countries like the Philippines.

 In an interview with Reuters Health, Bruno said, ``East Maui is an ecological niche in Hawaii; it is a fairly lush and isolated region that uniquely sustains transmission of the virus back and forth between mosquito and human. This eco-environment is found in only a few other places in Hawaii. In addition, the Hawaiian Aedes albopictus mosquito should inhibit the spread of an epidemic. For these reasons, we feel that the Hawaii outbreak will not extend to a large number of people or get out of control, and will remain mild in comparison to the large epidemic affecting other tropical areas.''

 The Hawaii DOH has responded to the outbreak with an aggressive mosquito control and eradication campaign in East Maui, community education efforts and an October 2 warning to all Hawaii physicians.

Life-threatening complications of dengue are rare but can be severe, especially in second infections with another type of the virus. There are four types of dengue fever virus, and unfortunately immunity to one does not confer immunity to the others.

 The most severe epidemics are occurring in tropical areas that are now experiencing a second wave of infection with a new type of dengue fever virus. All confirmed cases in the Maui outbreak have been uncomplicated and have not required hospitalization.

According to Bruno, a small number of travelers have contracted the infection while visiting Maui, while the great majority of travelers have not. Nevertheless, Bruno advises mainland physicians to consider dengue fever as a possible diagnosis in any traveler experiencing fever, plus two other dengue fever signs or symptoms, such as rash, headache or joint pain. Travel must have been completed within 2 weeks of onset of illness, to either Hawaii or other countries where dengue fever is epidemic (most of East Asia and the Pacific basin).

Travelers to these tropical areas, including East Maui, are advised to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, to use mosquito repellents containing 20% to 30% DEET on any exposed skin and to wear light-colored clothing, as mosquitoes are attracted to dark colors. Travelers are also advised to avoid outdoor activities that increase their risk of infection, such as camping in mosquito-infested areas of East Maui.

Additional information is available from the Hawaii DOH at http://www.state.hi.us/doh/dengue/index.html.


Colonies in space may be only hope, says Hawking

 THE human race is likely to be wiped out by a doomsday virus before the Millennium is out, unless we set up colonies in space, Prof Stephen Hawking warns today.

In an interview with The Telegraph, Prof Hawking, the world's best known cosmologist, says that biology, rather than physics, presents the biggest challenge to human survival.

 "Although September 11 was horrible, it didn't threaten the survival of the human race, like nuclear weapons do," said the Cambridge University scientist.

"In the long term, I am more worried about biology. Nuclear weapons need large facilities, but genetic engineering can be done in a small lab. You can't regulate every lab in the world. The danger is that either by accident or design, we create a virus that destroys us.

"I don't think the human race will survive the next thousand years, unless we spread into space. There are too many accidents that can befall life on a single planet. But I'm an optimist. We will reach out to the stars."

 Current theories suggest that space travel will be tedious, using spaceships travelling slower than light.

 But Prof Hawking, Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge, says that a warp drive, of the kind seen in Star Trek, cannot be ruled out.

 This method of space exploration and colonisation, apparently the stuff of science fiction, could be one possible escape from the human predicament.

Prof Hawking believes that genetic engineering could be used to "improve" human beings to meet the challenges of long duration space travel.

 Cyborgs, humans with computers linked to their brains, will be needed to prevent intelligent computers taking over. "I think humans will have to learn to live in space," he said.

 The Universe in a Nutshell, Prof Hawking's long-awaited follow-up to the 1988 bestseller A Brief History of Time.


IRAQ AND BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS

 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed seventeen total cases of anthrax on Friday, ten of which were caused by the more dangerous inhalation form. Four people have died, yet many more are recovering well under treatment. Still, the threat continues. The Hart Senate Office Building was scheduled for fumigation with chlorine dioxide gas - which will kill lingering anthrax spores as well as cockroaches, mice, and rats. However, safety concerns have limited the decontamination to the offices of Senators Tom Daschle and Russell Feingold. A small post office at the Pentagon was decontaminated on Sunday after two mailboxes there tested positive for anthrax.

 As America and the world watches, many are asking, "Who are the people responsible for these attacks?" Tests have shown that the anthrax mailed to Senator Daschle's office could have only originated in one of three countries, due to a specific chemical treatment that encourages the anthrax to deeply penetrate the lungs. The former Soviet Union, Iraq, and terrorist groups located in America are in the line up.

While, Saddam Hussein may or may not be behind the recent wave of anthrax attacks, there is good reason to keep a close watch on Iraq as a threat. Iraq has worked hard since the Persian Gulf War to keep its biological weapons production as secretive as possible. Under the terms of the Security Council resolution 687 (1991), Section C, Iraq was required to accept the removal, destruction, or rendering harmless of its weapons of mass destruction, and to submit to routine monitoring by the UN to ensure compliance.

From 1991 to 1998, the UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) monitored Iraq's weapons program and regularly made attempts to hold Iraq accountable to the S.C. resolution 687 - while Iraq regularly worked to skirt the provisions. Through all eight years, Iraq prevented officials from monitoring, gave false information in its declarations and, in short, refused to comply with the UN's terms.

Iraq made a pretense of agreeing to the resolution, and did initially declare a number of its chemical weapons and materials and 53 Al-Hussein and Scud type long-range ballistic missiles, but claimed it had no biological weapons program. Yet, in May of 1992 Iraq was forced to admit to the development of a biological weapons program and in July of 1995 they acknowledged that they had offensive capabilities. Then, in August of 1995, in light of hard evidence, Iraq finally admitted biological weaponization, but blamed the prior lack of openness on General Hussein Kamel, who had been responsible for all of Iraq's weapons programs. General Kamel had conveniently moved to Jordan when Iraq made this acknowledgement.

There has never been forthrightness from Iraq regarding its biological weapons capabilities. At one point, Iraq reported that it had filled sixteen missile warheads with Botulinum toxin (after altering the number between 15, 13 and 16 in various submissions or statements), five with anthrax spores, and four with aflatoxin. When investigations found more warheads filled with anthrax, there was some muddling by the Iraqi officials, and then one said, "Just put down whatever [numbers] you like."

According to UNSCOM reports, Iraq has developed several biological weapons agents, including anthrax, aflatoxin (causes liver cancer), clostridium botulinum toxin, clostridium perfringens spores, ricin, and wheat smut (for destroying crops).

As early as 1974, Iraq was experimenting with drying technologies to make these biological agents store longer. Iraq is also known to have the technology to use bentonite as an additive to keep anthrax particles small enough to inhale. Bentonite was found in the anthrax sent to Senator Daschle, hence Iraq's high place on the suspect list.

 Since UNSCOM became defunct in 1999, Iraq has been left unimpeded in its biological weapons production efforts. There is little to stop Saddam from supporting terrorist activities, especially since Salman Pak, outside of Baghdad, has been well known to be a training ground for terrorists.

 For these reasons, the United States and her allies should watch Saddam Hussein's movements very carefully.


WHO fears Ebola spread

 MAKOKOU, Gabon -- An outbreak of the killer Ebola disease in Gabon could spread to neighbouring countries, health chiefs have warned.

The World Health Organisation, which has sent a team of experts to the remote north-western Mekambo district, said two of the 11 suspected Ebola deaths have been confirmed.

They said at least one woman infected with the deadly disease had crossed the border with the Congo Republic.

Ebola causes up to 90 percent of its victims to bleed to death in a matter of days and has no known cure or vaccine.

 Four villages in Gabon have been put under quarantine but health workers said they had not been able to entirely stop villagers' movements.

 District health official Firmin Tcheka told Reuters: "The border is porous and people naturally move from one village to the other.

 "This flow of people can easily spread Ebola and the virus could make its appearance in the Congo."

Ebola killed more than 65 people in a 1996 epidemic in a nearby area of Gabon. It was first known to have struck in the country in 1994, when it left more than 20 dead.

Gabon's authorities have appealed to people in the sparsely populated country of 1.2 million to remain calm.

The WHO said on Friday it believed all the 11 victims in Mekambo had died of Ebola because eight of the dead were relatives of one of the two confirmed victims.

 Three more people were suspected to also have the disease.

In the early stages of the disease sufferers have flu-like symptoms but as the virus develops it eats through veins and arteries causing massive internal bleeding.


Science Notes Unprecedented Pestilence

 

''There is something very unusual about the present time. . . ''

According to the London Sunday Times, 'deadly viruses are mutating to infect humans at rate never seen before' according to one headline.

At least thirty-eight new killer human pathogens have emerged in the past twenty-five years. Three quarters of those, including AIDS, avian flu, SARS and new variant CJD, originated as animal diseases.

A new survey from the University of Edinburgh identified 1400 pathogens that can infect humans. More than half crossed the species barrier from animals to man.

Mark Woolhouse, the study's author, said it was impossible that human beings had ever been exposed to so many new pathogens in such a short period of time in all of past history.

Woolhouse told The American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in St Louis; “The rate of accumulation we are seeing now is too fast to be supported over an evolutionary timescale. We would be overrun with pathogens. Either many of these pathogens will not persist in humans, or there is something very unusual about the present time.”

Indeed there is. In Jesus last great prophetic message, His disciples asked, "What will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?"

Jesus predicted that shortly before His return, there would be signs of wars, rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes, global weather changes producing monster storms, and pestilence, which means deadly infectious diseases.

All these are part of today's headline news.

The Lord Jesus forewarned that in the last seven years before His Return there would be unprecedented catastrophe. Jesus warned that times would become so bad that, if the days were not shortened no one would be left alive.

We aren't in the Tribulation yet, but we can see the signs that indicate it is just around the corner.

The Apostle John, in his apocalyptic vision of the breaking of the fourth seal judgment, wrote, “And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the BEASTS OF THE EARTH.” (Revelation 6:8)

I have often puzzled over just what God meant by the prediction of “beast of the earth” causing tremendous death among mankind. I believe that the trans-mutation of virulent viruses from the animal kingdom now at least explains in part what was meant.

You know, I believe Dr. Woolhouse is right. There is something very unusual about this present time. The trans-mutation rate at which viruses are crossing over from animals to humans is unique and unprecedented.

This is another one of those “birth pangs” Jesus predicted would increase in frequency and intensity shortly before His Return.

Keep looking up.


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